Asking the Right Questions: Thinking Through App Development
App marketplace is booming and it seems that every organization, from media companies to sports leagues, non-profits to entrepreneurs, is thinking about making an app. Before you dive headlong into the process, let’s take a moment to organize and plan. As Ben Franklin would say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
So you’re considering an app. Hold on. Is it an App? Or is it a website? Or something else? Not every operation or function is best served by an app. Whether you’re considering an enterprise-level or general release app, some thought should be given to whether the goal of your app actually works for the form it will be in. Apple’s developer guidelines weigh in on this topic rather extensively. It’s worth some time to review these guidelines, particularly if you’re planning on developing for iOS.
Consider your audience. Will your end user’s needs be served by an app? Making the perfect interactive underwater basket-weaving how-to manual may sound cool during brainstorming, but it may not, in fact, be a good idea for an app.
Thinking about your audience will prompt you to develop your strategy. Why are you building this app? For revenue generation, as draw for another experience or to expand your brand into the mobile space, it’s important to know why your app is necessary and how it’s going to contribute to your business model or organization’s mission. A published app in the store doesn’t solve marketing weaknesses, product deficiencies or fundamental service problems
Consider distribution, which will impact form, function and features. Will it be an enterprise-level app used by a few dozen or hundred people? Will it be a freemium app in which additional revenue is derived via in-app purchases? Will it be a free or paid app? Some companies use their app to drive viewers to their websites which may have the real source of ROI — a subscription-based service or an ecommerce store. Others have business models which depend on upgrades. Still others may be using the app to educate, inform or entertain.
OK, let’s define the concept and figure out the details. When doing so, its helpful to start with a few basic questions which will help with your planning and start to turn the undefined into the specific and the actionable. After all, you’re creating an action plan for your app development team.
What specific functions will this app have? (What will it do?)
What’s the utility? (What use is it?)
What is the repeatability of the app? (Why are users going to return to the app time after time.)
These are just starters…you get the idea. Answer these, and more questions will organically arise.
Similarly, your 1.0 version app will undoubtedly be a starter version as well. Publish, then continue to fine-tune, improve and upgrade. Unlike physical media like books or DVDs, apps are a much more fluid and flexible product medium and benefit from a more iterative development process. Your app doesn’t have to be perfect in terms of every possible feature and function on the day of publication. As user needs develop and you receive feedback from your fan base, you can update and change the app to fit customer demands.
Indeed, you’ve got a built in focus group. Use customer reviews and feedback to your advantage. It makes sense to glean what information you can to make your product better. And by planning for an iterative development process, your reaction to these improvements will be more nimble and responsive (bonus!).
Don’t wait until it’s perfect to publish. It’s better to get an app to market than cede the ‘first position’ to somebody else. Improving your app and keeping users and fans loyal while you improve is far easier than luring a competitor’s established customers away from them. This is NOT to say that you should try to publish an app which doesn’t work — that’s the quickest way to annoy users and earn negative reviews.
Produce the best app you can manage today and get to work on the next, better version for tomorrow. And start thinking about your next one!
Let’s get started.
(The original version of this post appeared in August, 2012.)